The college football season is a mere two weeks away and two of the local college teams are both in position to make a run at the PAC-12 title. But UCLA and USC play in one of the toughest divisions in nation, the PAC-12 South, and while both teams are loaded with NFL-caliber talent, there are some question marks that could stop either program from reaching their potential.
The Bruins have made headlines this off season, but not for reasons for which they expecting. The sons of a pair of hip hop legends have gotten more press than the team, which actually is shaping up to be pretty good.
Hip Hop mogul P. Diddy made news, when he was arrested for an altercation after questioning UCLA’s strength and conditioning coach over interactions with his son, a defensive back on the team. Hip Hop legend Snoop Dogg was another big story, because his son accepted a scholarship to play for the school, but then decided to give up football just before training camp started.
These stories have provided fodder for social media, but they are not expected to put a damper on the upcoming season.
The Bruins have been a program on the rise since they hired Jim Mora Jr. as head coach three years ago. But right when they were on the verge of potentially becoming one of the best teams in the nation, star quarterback Brett Hundley left for the NFL.
Mora took over the program during Hundley’s first season as a starter, and the two of them turned UCLA from a middle-of-the road team into a winner. They stamped each of their three seasons together a success with a victory over cross-town rival USC. In fact, the last two match ups of the two squads were won quite convincingly by UCLA.
The question remains now: has the success of UCLA over the past three years been because they finally had a legitimate quarterback, or because they finally had a legitimate coach? With Hundley gone, that question is about to be answered.
UCLA has a loaded roster that features a handful of NFL-worthy players. They are returning wide receiver Jordan Payton, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, cornerback Fabian Moreau and wide receiver Devin Fuller. All of those players are expected to play professional football, and NFL.com has listed UCLA as No. 19 in nation in terms of having the most NFL-caliber players.
With Mora’s NFL background, he has dramatically improved recruiting and changed the culture of the program. But he ventures into this season without a veteran quarterback.
But even without Hundley, UCLA is not in a bad situation at that position. While they lost one hot-shot quarterback, they were able to land another one. Josh Rosen—the number one high school quarterback in the nation from last season—looks to be in place to win the starter’s job this year. Rosen is expected to become one of the best quarterbacks in the nation during his career at UCLA, but can the program thrive this season with a true freshman at the helm?
This season could hinge on Rosen’s abilities to play at a high level. If he can be a force this season, UCLA could win the PAC-12 South and have a shot at the Rose Bowl. But if it takes him a season to become acclimated to the college game, UCLA could very well struggle this year.
The dark cloud over USC’s program that was left in the aftermath of the Pete Carroll/Reggie Bush era seems to have finally been lifted. The team as served its bowl ban, and finally has a full allotment of scholarships at their disposal.
Now that USC is working on the same playing level as the rest of the nation, they are looking to rise back to the top and dominate college football. That upswing could start as early as this year, because they to have a loaded roster filled with young and extremely talented players.
NFL.com ranks the Trojans number seven in the nation in terms of having the most NFL-caliber players, with the likes of safety/line backer Su’a Cravens, wide receiver JuJu Smith, cornerback/wide receiver Adoree’ Jackson, center Max Tuerk, and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods.
The success of this team may ride on the arm of quarterback Cody Kessler, who has put together a good college career. He has never been considered the next great USC quarterback, but over the course of his career, a few highly-ranked high school quarterbacks have transferred out of USC because they could not unseat Kessler. He has been extremely efficient, and has developed into one of the national’s best. A big season could stamp his career as a total success, and put him in the same esteem as some of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play at USC.
The X factor for USC may be Jackson, who may be the nation’s best two-way player. His strength is at cornerback, but he does not limit himself to one side of the football. The Serra High School grad (in Gardena) is capturing the nation’s attention, as he looks to put on a show as an offensive threat, while at the same time becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the country.
Both Jackson and Kessler are on the Heisman Trophy-watch list, and if they can live up to the hype, USC may stop UCLA’s winning streak in the cross-town rivalry.